The purpose of the Sea Research Society, which was incorporated on the 31st of January, 1972, was stated in its charter as follows: “for research and exploration in the various marine sciences (including but not limited to: marine biology, ecology, archaeology, oceanography) and to conduct salvage, teach diving and marine archaeology techniques. To engage in all related activities that would further the cause of marine archaeology and the various marine sciences.”

Over the years, the Society has done an enormous amount of historical research and numerous underwater expeditions, both scientific (like tagging sharks and doing coral restoration) and in search of historic shipwrecks. One of the Society’s officers is an international expert on climate change, and how it is affecting the Arctic Ocean.

One of the reasons the Society was created was that one of its founding directors, Edward Lee Spence, had discovered the wreck of the Hunley, which was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship, and he wanted to raise the wreck as a not-for-profit venture, and he needed an organization to do that. But government red-tape delayed it for years. In September of 1995, at the request of Senator Glenn F. McConnell, Chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission, and, with the South Carolina Attorney General, Charles M. Condon, signing for the State, Dr. Spence donated his discovery/ownership rights to the wreck to the State of South Carolina. The Hunley was finally raised in August of 2000.

The Society’s original board of directors and board of advisors was largely made up of curators, archaeologists, archivists, and historians from existing organizations including the U.S. National Archives, the U.S. National Parks Service, the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution and other museums. They were people who had already made major discoveries, and, like Spence, are today widely thought of as the pioneers of underwater archaeology. For more on the organization’s history and founders, read about Sea Research Society on Wikipedia.

The Society helps educate the public through the Society’s website; through Dr. Spence’s web site, Shipwrecks.com; and through the Society’s Facebook group, which is open to the public and currently has 19,530 members worldwide, who pay nothing to participate or to be members.

Dr. Spence, who serves as president of the Society, has a significant research library with many thousands of books, periodicals and documents relating to diving, shipwrecks and underwater archaeology that he has purchased with his own funds, which he uses to augment the Society’s own, considerably smaller, collection of research materials. Spence uses them to answer email and phone questions from the public and to create social media posts to help educate the public about diving, shipwrecks and the sea.

Although the Society is officially a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and welcomes donations, with the exception of perhaps five years total since its founding fifty-one years ago, the Society has not actively solicited contributions. Instead, Dr. Spence has been the primary financial backer of the Society allowing it to freely pursue its purposes and goals without obligations to its donors, real or implied. And, he has never taken any tax-deductions based on his gifts and support of the Society, as he believes it could appear to be a conflict of interest. Nor did he take a deduction for his gift of the Hunley to the State of South Carolina, even though it was valued in the millions of dollars, as he wanted to make it clear he was doing it for the public and not for any personal tax advantage.


The objectives and purposes of the Society center exploration and scientific expeditions as well as research (historical and scientific) and education, conducted through the Society or in partnership with outside individuals and organizations.

The Society also maintains a general membership of students, educators, researchers, divers, and enthusiasts who would like to stay in touch with the Society and in many cases actively participate in our initiatives.


Our primary initiatives are conducting historical and scientific research expeditions as well as exploring the educational opportunities that arise out of these endeavors.

Online, we’re working towards the creation and nurturing of an online community of SRS advocates and website members. Through this community the Society can better achieve it’s mission of educating the public as well as professional and amateur exploration & engagement. Another online initiative is the creation of an online library and shipwreck database that will provide others with access to the wealth of information the SRS possesses in it’s archives.

The Society is also committed to the creation of an educational research facility and museum devoted to underwater archaeology, maritime history, oceanography, marine biology, meteorology, and related arts and sciences.


Dr. E Lee Spence
Founder & Chairman of the Board of Directors

Spurred on by childhood tales of pirates and adventure, Dr. Spence, found his first shipwrecks at the age of twelve. He has since found literally hundreds of wrecks and has worked on everything from Spanish galleons and pirate ships to Civil War blockade runners. His best known discoveries are those of the Confederate submarine Hunley; the Civil War blockade runner/cruiser Georgiana; and the identity of the real Rhett Butler.

Rusty Whiting
Vice President – Training

Training Director National Academy of Police Diving (NAPD); Training Director Multinational Dive Educators Association (MDEA); Public Safety Director International Diving Institute (IDI); Operations Director Lighthouse Dive Services; Owner Whiting and Associates Diving Consultants; President Marina Divers Association; Instructor Trainer Ocean Reef; Hazmat Instructor Trainer.

Jim McNeill
Vice President – Arctic Expeditions

With over 26 years of Arctic traveling, Jim McNeill, founder of Ice Warrior, Ascot, United Kingdom, is an accomplished polar explorer, presenter and keynote speaker. In January 2001 he conceived the idea of combining his professional rescue expertise with his polar expeditioning into a long term vision known as the Ice Warrior Project.